Sunday, May 25, 2014

Indianapolis/Charlotte Post-Mortems

And so Memorial Day motorsports blast off and leave plenty of subplots to contemplate as the Indianapolis 500 exploded to one of its most exciting finishes while the World 600 saw a late challenge for Jimmie Johnson but in the end it was a challenge Johnson wasn't going to lose.

Ryan Hunter-Reay is one of those drivers who has been largely overlooked as far as Mainstream Media attention - such as it is nowadays - toward Indycar racing goes.   He nonetheless has been around for over ten years and has put together quite a number of wins from his days in the old CART series, winning with Stefan Johansson in Australia and also with the old Herdez team leading wire to wire at Milwaukee.   Signing on with Rahal-Letterman's team, he won at Watkins Glen before that team dissolved.  Michael Andretti's Indycar team now sought his services and Hunter-Reay has assembled a nice collection of victory trophies -  Milwaukee and the Birmingham road course have been almost his personal playground in Indycars.

Hunter-Reay's Indianapolis win will stand out, not only for being Indianapolis but for how hard he had to fight.  The last 43 laps were a drafting slugfest and the lead changed ten times in that span; the lead changed twice on Lap 199 alone, and nothing was going to stop him.


Amid Hunter-Reay's spectacular day there were many subplots - none bigger than Ed Carpenter's spectacular run and then coming to near-blows with James Hinchcliffe on a Lap 175 restart where Carpenter got sandwiched and an unplanned attempt to race three abreast through Turn One went south quickly.   Though he's won twice and led 207 laps in Indycar racing, Carpenter has never really established himself as something other than Tony George's stepson, this even though he's continued showing he's for real as a racer.  

The big challenger to Hunter-Reay late was Helio Castroneves, now on a quest to win Indianapolis four times; he damn near pulled it off in Penske's retro-Johnny Rutherford Pennzoil paint scheme.   Between them Penske and Michael Andretti swept the top six finishing spots, while Ed Carpenter's team salvaged a tenth place by J.R. Hildebrand.

Curiously having an abysmal day was Ganassi Racing, who entered three cars and lost two of them to wrecks while lameduck 500 champ Tony Kanaan was nowhere other than 26th at the end.

The other big subplot was that Indycar's third-year racecar for some reason has been at its raciest at the 500.   For three straight 500s the draft has been the dominant characteristic of the racing and of this racecar, and the ferocity of the passing showed it.   It is odd that this car hasn't quite had the same effect at Pocono and other high-speed tracks where the draft should be everything - for Indycars as well as NASCAR.


Disappointing was the lack of pre-race buzz, even with the connection between the 500 and the World 600.   Kurt Busch had entered the 500 in one of Michael Andretti's cars hoping to make the 500-600 double, the first such attempt by anyone in years.   Busch finished a quiet but nonetheless impressive sixth in the 500 before flying to Charlotte for the 600, and ran better than I suspect a lot of railbirds would have expected - yet in the end he lost power and finished 40th, and raised the question of whether the double was truly worth it.

Busch's effort took a back seat to teammate Kevin Harvick, who led 100 laps and tried to run down Jimmie Johnson at the end.   This is starting to become a pattern, as Harvick was the strongest yet a Hendrick car beat him at Kansas.  The rest of Stewart-Haas' effort was more mixed; Tony finished 13th - his first finish higher than 20th in a month - while 39th and 40th were the domain of Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick.  Little Miss Danica again earned media coverage beyond her talent level after a surprisingly good qualifying effort - but again once the race started she began to lose grip and then got waylaid in a crash.  

While Chip Ganassi didn't have anything to be proud of at The Brickyard he salvaged something in Bruton's Backyard via Jamie McMurray's fifth, coming after his All-Star Race win.   McMurray continues to be one of those guys who gets lost in the media shuffle yet will not go away on the track. 

Speaking of guys who won't go away, Brian Vickers continues to get into solid finishes, and lately has looked better than teammate Clint Bowyer, while another who won't go away even though he hasn't done much lately is Trevor Bayne, 20th in the 600 in the Wood Brothers #21 and now proud recipient of a full-time Roush Ford ride for 2015; an angle to watch is whether this is a fourth Roush car or a replacement for one of his established drivers, this amid burgeoning rumors of a split with Carl Edwards and also scuttlebutt that Ricky Stenhouse may not last the season - certainly he's making no case for himself on the racetrack.

A Ford that IS making a case for itself on the racetrack yet again is Richard Petty's #43, as Aric Almirola refuses to go away and continues to become a contender under Trent Owens.   11th is actually disappointing given Almirola clawed into contention and had to overcome stalling the car on a late stop.  

So with that, Indycar continues on while NASCAR heads to Dover for a date with Bristol on steroids.

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